Would You Have the Courage to Stop Treatment of the Advanced Cancer?

We’ve known each other for close to forty years. She was a good friend of mine and a former wife of my close buddy. I visited her in the delivery room after her son was born.

Her marriage didn’t work out, and she ended up by herself. And then she found out, she had breast cancer. I don’t think being a doctor is helpful to manage the dreaded disease, but certainly, it doesn’t make you a better patient. Any physician treating him or herself has a fool for a doctor. One has to let it go.

Then it appeared that her cancer went to stage IV, and there was no more hope. At least no hope for a conventional medicine. I’m uncertain if she decided to treat her nemesis with any alternative methods. I know, though, that she ended up in Europe, where she stayed close to her daughter. I knew some but not all the details and while in that continent I decided to visit her.

She gave me her address. The area she lived in was spectacular. I rented a car and after traveling through the country road I found the piazza close to the place where she lived. I had some problem in finding the proper entrance, so she came out to greet me. I watched her walking toward me. Dressed in a simple white dress, she walked maybe slower than usually, but didn’t weigh less than I would expect. She had some troubles to come down the stairs, but with the help of the rail she managed.

Her apartment was small, and she had it all for herself. Since the house was built on the hill, the living space was designed to have a multi level floor plan. Her place was clean, tidy and filled with knick-knacks from the two other countries she lived in before. The balcony had a breathtaking view of the roofs of the houses below and farther out endless fields of rich green trees. There was a time for a cup of coffee, some sweets and long conversations. No complaints, no bitterness, just smiling reminiscence of times spent together and times spent apart. I didn’t ask about her health, she mentioned it herself.

“I stopped all the treatment.”

No more anguishing fight, no more despair, no debilitating side effects of chemicals and radiation. I looked at her and she was at peace. Serene. No tears. She didn’t even seem interested in my reaction to her confession. I tried not to show my despair. I got up and walked to the window with a view of surrounding greenery, not to show her my eyes. She knew the consequences – she was a doctor herself. Her sixtieth birthday was just a few years ago. All she had now been this simple and comfortable place, filled with the best memories from her entire life. And her daughter lived in the neighborhood.

She always appreciated good art and it showed here. But now her life is being cut short. And this apartment is probably going to be her last.

There was more chat about what’d happened and what would happen if…. But I didn’t sense any regrets, any blame, certainly no wailing. She was at peace.

Then I noticed she was getting tired and admitted the time was coming for her afternoon nap. We said goodbyes and the hug was longer than usually. I walked out of stairs by myself – she was already in her bed.

The small square was quaint and boys were playing soccer.

After several months, I got a message from a friend who also kept in touch with her. She died a couple of months after the last time I saw her, and, as requested, her ashes were scattered in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

To me, she will always remain the epitome of resolve and class.

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